Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Worried about offending the host?

Originally posted on:


"Ask Alana"

I became a vegetarian three years ago. This holiday season, I have been invited to spend a holiday dinner with a friend and her family. While I would very much like to participate in the festivities, I am concerned that my dietary restrictions will be a problem. I don't want to inconvenience my hosts by requiring them to cook a special meal for me, but I also dread the thought of loading my plate with salad at the dinner table whilst having to answer why I'm not partaking in the rest of the bounty (in my experience, people take offense when one does not eat what is offered). Can I accept the invitation without offending?

-- Jenny Carleton, Montclair, N.J.


So the thought of eating meat makes you want to jump into the burning fires of Mordor? Poor you. It must not be fun to be a vegetarian in a season where many holidays revolve around eating assorted birds. I hope your friend's family isn't Maori, because their holiday meal includes burying meats in hot stones and then digging them up a little later to chow down.

You can accept the invitation without offending, as long as you're not going to use the meal as a platform to talk about the evils of meat and how eating a turkey is as immoral as eating a baby. After all, the Indians probably came to the Pilgrims' dinner and saw the lobster that was allegedly served for the first Thanksgiving and thought "Eeeww, don't they know it's a bottom feeder?" But they still sat down at the table and ate together and probably didn't even make cracks about the buckles on the Pilgrims' hats.

However. There are two schools of thought as to how you should approach the meal. Advice columnist Amy Alcon says "it's unpolite to have all these special dietary needs." She recommends bringing a vegan salami in your purse and eating it when no one's looking so you won't get hungry. But Collen Patrick-Goudreau, a vegan and the founder of Compassionate Cooks, says that's baloney. She recommends contacting the host and, after profusely thanking her for the invite, telling her that you're vegetarian. You could then offer to bring a vegetarian main dish such as stuffed pumpkins, or ask the host to set aside a small bowl of stuffing and other side dishes so you can add your own non-meat ingredients. If you know the host well, you might even advise her as to how to prepare a vegetarian side dish. "I encourage people to live their own values and stop worrying what the truth will do," she said.

I think both ideas are a little preposterous, to tell you the truth, Jenny. Putting salami in your purse is just plain gross, even if it's vegan. And asking your host if she wouldn't mind cooking you a vegan turkey is kind of like asking your friend if you look fat in those jeans. What is she supposed to say?

I recommend reminding your friend that you're a vegetarian, just so her family isn't surprised, and bringing a side dish that you can eat. You're supposed to contribute something as a guest anyway. Then you can fill up on side dishes, or at least put some other ones on your plate. I have found that if you move your food around your plate just so, people won't even notice if you're eating a lot of the same thing -- or nothing at all. Although if you really want to make sure you'll get enough to eat, you can take after the Maori and bury an extra dish in your friend's backyard a few days before the big meal. Dig it up only in the case of emergency.

-- Alana

My comment:

Alana says that "I think both ideas are a little preposterous." I really think her advice is based on a following the same Standard American Diet, and thinking that there is no other way. This is preposterous. The host can have her meal like she wants it and also include new friends--or in general those following a plant based-diet. There were some wise words within this article however, says Collen Patrick-Goudreau, a vegan and the founder of Compassionate Cooks:

"I encourage people to live their own values and stop worrying what the truth will do."

Stop worrying, just put it right out there! Why be sneaky about who you are? Hiding food in your purse? That nuts. It is best if you are truthful and communicate your personal choice to this host or to anyone inviting you to eat with them. And it is your choice, if they can't respect your lifestyle then that really say much about them being understanding and supportive.
There is a rule about following a plant-based aka vegan diet: don't leave home without it. If you know you'll be gone for several hours or the whole day, pack some food! In this case depending on time constraints the visitor could contact the host and speak to them about her concern and offer to a) bring one or more foods to share b) if your host has kitchen space for you: bring some ingredients and come early to help make and modify something into a vegan food. You just don't want to make extra work for the host. This can easily be done by letting people get to know you and staying true to your personal decisions.

Everyone enjoy this holiday, if you don't celebrate it maybe just find something to be thankful for. If this appreciation relates to someone, let them know!


Monday, November 24, 2008

Omega-3 Fatty Acids = Essential! Where can I get me some?

Topic & My comment originally posted on:

Website of Professor Marion Nestle, Author of Food Politics (among other books):


Upgraded health claim for omega-3?

November 22, 2008

Yes Virginia, there is indeed a trade association for everything and omega-3 fats have their very own. This one is hard at work trying to get the FDA to approve a full health claim (as opposed to the current qualified claim) for omega-3 fatty acids and heart disease risk. The FDA now allows this statement: “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease” (my emphasis). I can understand why the omega-3 industry wants something stronger. Health claims, as I keep insisting, are about marketing, not health.

  1. Since I know that nutrients in foods work best when they’re together–like a symphony, I focus on eating healthy WHOLE food.
    There are many benefits from eating Walnuts:

    or Flax Seed (to help access all the flax seed's nutrients, I like to use coffee grinder, then store them and walnuts each in their own jar in the refrigerator)

    Both are a great plant-based source of protein, provide us with fiber to keep our gut healthy, are high in Essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and taste yummy in a green smoothie or with soy yogurt!

    Comment by Daniel Ithaca,NY — November 24, 2008 @ 9:27 am


It is very important to realize that supplements don't necessarily:
--have the same effect as the foods which they are otherwise a part of.
--have a consistent amount of the Vitamin, Mineral, or other nutrient you are wishing to consume. Some brands may have 100% of what they say some may have 10% and some may have more than the stated amount.
We may have read that foods containing Vitamin E are healthy for us, for promoting cardiovascular health especially. The supplement industry sees these research articles and extrapolates-takes it out of context- the information to mean that taking a Vitamin E supplement, must also be healthy for cardiovascular health. We know in the case of Vitamin E that opposite may actually be true. Some studies have shown Vitamin E supplements increase problems with heart disease.
"Johns Hopkins University also performed a meta-analysis of 19 clinical studies
and they published their findings in January 2005. The result showed that a daily
dose of 400 IU or more Vitamin E increased the risk of death from all cause."

Food companies often extrapolate this information as well, adding certain nutrients to their usually highly processed/high calorie foods. 100% Vitamin C with lots of pictures of fruit! But it could have just 2% Fruit juice if you look carefully.

Sources of Vitamin E: nuts, leafy green vegetables, are two great healthy sources of this important nutrient.

The important issue here: eat healthy nutritious, especially organic, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds etc. to get your nutrients, health doesn't come in a pill!

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Food Miles: A Real Issue Or a Distractor, from post
Marion Nestle's post:

November 16, 2008

The Mercatus Institute has produced a report arguing that food miles - the environmental cost of the distance food travels - is a meaningless concept based on erroneous assumptions, and that the “buy local” movement is focused on the wrong issues. I don’t know anything about the Mercatus Institute other than what is on its website, and I don’t recognize the names of its members. Anybody know anything about it? Here’s what the Wall Street Journal said about this group in 2004.

My comment, as posted:


I like the idea of keeping information about food simple and not critiquing all the factors that surround the issues of healthy food. It’s so complicated for people already!
*Michael Pollan says: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. (food = something your grandmother would recognize as being edible).
It is pretty amazing how when someone eats a varied diet that is mostly (or even fully) minimally processed Plant-Based using Local– *In Season* –vegetables and fruits when possible, it is the best thing for their bodies, AND for the environment.

If “Food Miles” is a major concern, it is because the amount of energy expended–wasted–to get the food to us, wherever we are in the world. If this is the real concern wasted resources relating to food then why not focus our attention to the biggest culprit of waste? The meat and dairy industry are a tremendous burden to the environment, especially in the United States, with the manure lagoons of factory farms that eventually seep into our water supply, the huge amounts of water wasted, the vast quantities of GMO grain needed to be planted, harvested, shipped to these industrial protein factories. And we can’t forget the petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides that are produced, transported to corn fields, often over-sprayed and also end up reeking havoc in our water, contributing to things like the Dead Zone in the Gulf Of Mexico. We need legislation to stop the governmental support, at all levels, for these factory farms.
It is great to be concerned where our food comes from to make sure it is safe, and compare the wasted energy in getting it to us if a comparable food can be made closer to home, but why is it that people are not focusing on the main environmental issue relating to food?
**Reducing your meat and dairy consumption is the most important thing the average person can do to be “green;” to lessen their impact upon the environment.
Is this because meat and dairy consumption weigh so heavily upon the Standard American Diet?
Are we ready for the truth or do we just want to dabble around with less important issues such as “Food Miles” that might be easier to deal with than taking a look at our own diets.
People used to have all kinds of misconceptions about the use of tobacco. We now know that its use is detrimental to our health. The culture changed to accept that tobacco use is a habit we can live without.
When will be ready to accept that our greatly excessive meat >>>>>and dairy consumption are concurrently putting great stresses on our bodies and on our Earth?

Comment by Daniel Ithaca, NY — November 18, 2008 @ 1:20 am


Food Miles, it is of minor concern. Eating local--when in season, organic (top 12 to buy organic based on pesticide residues: Apples, Bell Peppers, Celery, Cherries, Grapes- imported, Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Potatoes, Red Raspberries, Spinach, Strawberries) plant-based minimally processed foods is of most importance.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NYTimes article: "Are Schools Really to Blame for Poor Eating?" & my comments on the NYT blog

Below the published & pasted article are the comments I have made. Use the link to read all the comments.
November 10, 2008, 2:17 pm

Are Schools Really to Blame for Poor Eating?

Tara Parker-Pope, on HEALTH

Schools have been vilified for giving kids access to soda in vending machines. But new data suggests that school soft drink sales may not be an important factor in how much soda kids drink.

In the current issue of The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers compared soda consumption among nearly 500 students in Maine who attended seven schools over two school years. Four of the schools cut back on soft drink availability at the schools, while three of the schools made no changes.

Notably, all the students were drinking less soda by the end of the study period, but there were no meaningful differences in overall soft drink consumption among the different schools. The data suggest that curbing soft drink availability at school doesn’t result in meaningful changes in beverage consumption patterns. While there were no changes in overall soda consumption, there was a notable shift in diet soda drinking among girls. If the school cut back on soda availability, girls were less likely to drink diet soda, compared to girls in schools that made no changes.

The data are the latest to suggest that schools may not play as big of a role in kids’ poor eating habits as widely believed. Last year, The American Journal of Public Health published a provocative study showing that childhood weight problems often get worse in the summer, when kids are out of school.

Data from kindergarteners and first graders found that body mass index increased two to three times as fast in summer as during the regular school year. Minority children were especially vulnerable, as were children who were already overweight.

Notably, even children who were too thin and needed to gain weight appeared to have better eating habits during the school year. They actually gained more weight while in school and less in the summer.

Even so, much of the focus on childhood nutrition and obesity remains in the nation’s schools. Today, The Times reported that even the school bake sale is disappearing as districts impose strict standards on the food served on school grounds.

The old-fashioned school bake sale, once as American as apple pie, is fast becoming obsolete in California, a result of strict new state nutrition standards for public schools that regulate the types of food that can be sold to students. The guidelines were passed by lawmakers in 2005 and took effect in July 2007. They require that snacks sold during the school day contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat. "

My Comments, copied from the NYTimes blog:

Children don’t need to consume soda–and definitely not at school. The children most likely to spend their money on junk like soda are from families of the lowest income.
There are so many areas to work on, especially at school. Is soda to blame? Just as much as other sugar drinks like High Fructose Gatorade, or any other sugar+water=”sports drink”.
Another area of concern is the lack of good-tasting vegetables. I see a lot of elementary school children a hot dog and chocolate milk for lunch. Then a second hot dog. Getting into this habit of drinking a sugary drink with a highly processed food is something they are learning as a way of life.
*As a country we are either investing the students health creating lifetime habits–or we’re not. We need quality food for the school districts, so they at minimum exceed the federal USDA recommendations for % from fat and % sugar. Since Trans Fat is Toxic, eliminate added trans fat (not .5g per serving, actually avoid all products with part. hydrogenated oils).
*Dessert at lunch? We don’t need ice cream or desserts served at lunch. It is sending the wrong message.
*Sugary milk every day? How about no sweetened milks (chocolate, strawberry, etc) or at least limit serving them to maybe 2 days a week.
*Any grains served shall be Whole Grains: pasta, bread
An elementary school, , is lucky enough to have its second year of being able to provide all the students with a morning fruit and an afternoon (mostly local, organic) vegetable snack. Many students are encouraged to at least take a “no thank you bite”. Continually re-introducing these veg. & variety of fruits to kids seems to work really well!
“Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today.” President-Elect Obama
When these children become adults let them know how the changes we are making today have had an impact in their health and in their lives.

— Daniel Keough


Is this a problem just for over-weight children, or their families? What about children who appear healthy but like so many young people in recent years are developing diabetes very early in life. Is it their problem?
This is a societal problem and it isn’t about focusing on what diseases we can prevent. Let’s focus on eating healthy and investing–in school, at home and elsewhere, in our health. Let’s invest in health-care, so that we don’t need to invest so much in the big business of sick-care in the not-so-distant future.
Parents and others: contact your schools, ask what you can do to support them in serving healthy foods. Volunteer! The health of these children is important, right?
*Please contact your
Representative and your
Senators at
Let them know we need to invest in our children’s health now with increase funding for nutrition education and in school foods which don’t contradict the lessons, but support them. Please act!

— Daniel Keough